“Large Crowd Expected For Opening Day Of Racing Meet Which Will Feature Large Panhandle Delegations.”
That was the headline 70 years ago in the Aug. 17, 1938 Tucumcari Daily News.
The racing meet also made history. Although New Mexico had passed legislation authorizing racing in 1934, it wasn’t until 1938 that a meet got past the starting gate and that was in Tucumcari. It also was the beginning of pari-mutuel betting in the state. The sum of $3,000 was offered in purses.
Area businessmen formed the Tucumcari Racing Association and put the races the together.
And the track was where the Tucumcari Convention Center sits today, said Patrick Vanderpool, executive director of the Greater Tucumcari Economic Development Corp.
“Where the commission will be sitting on Thursday, is about where the north side of the track was,” Vanderpool said at Tuesday night’s City Commission meeting.
And like today, the group was depending on its closeness to Amarillo.
They even borrowed the stands for race-goers to watch the races from the Amarillo fairgrounds, according to news reports.
In anticipation, “Meet officials urged that business houses close during the afternoon from the time the races start at about 3 until they are completed between 5:30 and 6 o'clock,” the Tucumcari Daily News reported.
There was also a “Lady’s Day, when the women of Tucumcari and this vicinity will be invited to attend the races free of charge.”
In addition there was news that, Roy H. Smith had returned from Amarillo and reported the city of Amarillo has placards in the windows of business houses and practically every automobile was carrying wind shield stickers advertising Tucumcari’s race days.
In preparation, “people from Tucumcari volunteered their services and thousands of hat bands were pinned on the cowboy's hats by Tucumcari ladies.”
Here are other excerpts from the Tucumcari Daily News as the racing events continued:
Aug. 18, 1938:
“A large throng was on hand early this afternoon at the Stadium in anticipation for the races which got off on scheduled time at about 2:30 this afternoon.
“The Pari-mutuel system of betting was an attraction ... which is believed to be a big drawing card, especially from the Panhandle of Texas, since the betting system was stopped in that state after having been in operation at Amarillo and other Texas points.”
Aug. 19, 1938:
“Tucumcari took to its horse racing in a splendid manner yesterday for the opening day events of a several days racing program. A large crowd, including many visitors from Texas and parts of New Mexico witnessed seven good races.”
Aug. 22, 1938:
“Officials of the Tucumcari Racing Association reported today that additional horses had arrived at the stadium and were ready to participate in the program this week.
“The three day's program last week drew large and enthusiastic crowds from the Tucumcari vicinity and also from the Texas Panhandle. Saturday was designated Conchas Dam day and a large attendance appeared from there.”
Aug. 23, 1938:
“Today saw another large crowd at the stadium for the fourth day of the Tucumcari races. Betting through the pari-mutual system was reported heavy for the afternoon's choices.”